Farm equipment on public roads?
May 17, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What are the laws about driving farm equipment on public roads?

I live in a semi-rural area of California and drive on county-maintained roads through farmland on the way to work.

This time of year there is always farm equipment operating, plowing, planting, harvesting, etc. Oftentimes the road is littered with huge clods of dirt or rocks - big enough to dent my car's bumper, which has happened; and sometimes the farm equipment is just driving on the roadway, holding up traffic and belching foul diesel exhaust. These tractors don't have license plates or orange 'slow vehicle' triangles. (Once on an unlit 70-mph section of Highway 101 at midnight, I nearly hit a combine, which was traveling at 20 mph, half on the slow lane, half off-road in the dirt shoulder; no lights, no license plate, nothing.)

Are these drivers breaking the law, or is there an exemption for farm equipment?

I have no practical reason for wanting to know; I'm not going to report them to the cops; I just want to know whether my mild annoyance is legitimate. Best answer will probably link to a section of US or California legal code.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Slow moving equipment definitely needs the triangle, but it often gets destroyed in field use. Some states require license plates on tractors, but it is rarely (nevera) enforced. There is also an exemption for equipment that is not mainly a vehicle (a trailer hauling a posthole digger needs a license plate, a posthole digger with wheels does not).
posted by 445supermag at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2013

Best answer: This section seems relevant - I read it to say that some farm vehicles are exempt from registration, and the section implies that they can be used on highways between farms. It says they need some kind if identification plate, but it's not clear to me if it's the same thing as a license plate.

Here's a list of possible CA Vehicle Code violations.

Here are two relevant violations:
22400(a) Minimum speed, impeding normal flow of traffic.
22400(b) Minimum speed, below signposted limit.

You can search the CA vehicle code on the CA DMV website.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2013

Best answer: Another source.

Exemptions: An implement of husbandry is exempt from registration, brakes, lights, size limitations (within specific guidelines and with the exception of weight) and identification plates when incidentally operated or moved over a highway.

Definition: An implement of husbandry is a vehicle used exclusively in the conduct of agricultural operations. An implement of husbandry does not include a vehicle whose existing design is primarily for the transportation of persons or property on a highway, unless specifically designated as such by some other VC provision. [VC ยง 36000]

[a list of examples follows on the site, along with another list of vehicles that only fall under the exemption under certain circumstances but are otherwise required to have plates when on the road]

So they are within their rights to be on the road, without plates, without lights, and even without brakes. But your annoyance is legitimate if they operate in a manner that endangers you, and I actually would have reported the instance you cite.
posted by beagle at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2013

I would also suggest that if you are operating a motor vehicle in such a way that an unlit obstruction on a road at midnight presents a danger to you, you might want to reconsider how you're operating that vehicle. What if that combine half on the shoulder were a disabled vehicle? A deer? A person walking for help from a disabled vehicle? A mattress blown off a truck? A toppled tree?

There are many places where 101 isn't legally a restricted access highway (Novato to Petaluma, in northern Marin County, for instance), there are all sorts of things that could be occurring on that road that could be hazardous if you're operating your automobile beyond the safe limits for the conditions.
posted by straw at 11:24 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, that's pretty clear - the daytime tractors on the little back road are totally legit (and so was that one jack-knifed hay-wagon.) I only take that road because it's so pretty; I can now be aware that the tractors are part of the local approved scenery. :)

I am aware that the guy running a combine half-on the highway on a moonless night was dangerous; I missed him at full speed by inches, probably closest I've ever come to death. I did report that guy to CA Highway Patrol immediately.

Thanks for all your replies.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2013

As others have pointed out, driving agricultural vehicles on the road, unless there's a specific restriction, is generally legal. How would they get from field to field otherwise?

You know that the posted speed limit is the legal maximum, right, and that you should never drive faster that conditions permit? I agree with straw: if coming up on that combine was a near-death experience for you, you were almost certainly driving much too fast for the conditions.

I remember driving along I-90 back in the mid-1990s when Montana had no speed limits on limited-access highways during the daytime hours, other than that drivers should not go faster than what was prudent. South Dakota and Wyoming, on the other hand, had 75-mph speed limits. I noticed that traffic slowed down when passing from Wyoming into Montana, because most of those who had decided that it was OK to drive 5-10 mph over the 75 limit apparently decided that was too fast when they didn't have a number to exceed.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:02 PM on May 17, 2013

Speaking from the experience of hours and hours (and hours and hours — at the peak, I spent a year doing the four-hour-each-way SF-to-Chico-and-back trip every weekend, leaving after work on Friday and returning Sunday night) driving on 2-lane Northern California rural highways, yeah, you were driving too fast for conditions. It's a rural, agricultural area, with narrow roads and people's driveways opening directly onto the highway. The burden is on you to drive with awareness.

Ah, dear old Highway 99. It's been years since I've driven you and yet I can visualize you unrolling before my eyes. Hey, look, it's the farm stand with the best prices on mandarin oranges and walnuts for 50 miles. And as Tom Waits points out, Marysville ain't nothin' but a wide spot in the road…
posted by Lexica at 9:59 PM on May 17, 2013

Response by poster: I no longer drive on 101 at night. Thanks for your concern.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 10:41 PM on May 17, 2013

Also, if you or any of your friends and loved ones use agricultural products, you might appreciate that those slow moved farm vehicles are doing their thing. The reason for these vehicles getting exemptions is not just some special interest, it's in all our interest.
posted by at at 7:47 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

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